Nets dress in Sunday best

CBS, Fox, NBC, ABC, WB hope to take auds back from cable

HOLLYWOOD — It doesn’t matter what the networks shoot out of the Sunday cannon — and they’ve fired some heavy ammo — they continue to lose big chunks of ground to cable on the night.

Last season, despite Sunday broadcasts of the Academy Awards, Super Bowl, Game 7 of the World Series, three weeks of the Winter Olympics, and even a “Survivor” finale, the broadcast nets lost 5 more share points to cable.

According to Nielsen, the five broadcasters (UPN still rests on Sundays) combined for just 46% of the adults 18-49 audience Sundays, down from 51% a year earlier and 56% just two years ago.

Not only has HBO made Sunday its signature series night, but other cablers also have chipped away at the nets with series and movies. At the same time, recent Sunday web megahits like “Touched by an Angel,” “The X-Files,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “The Practice” have either declined or disappeared.

Four new series will attempt to turn the Sunday tide this fall, with NBC’s “American Dreams” and “Boomtown” most likely to make an impact.

Here’s a look at the night:

Fox

With the “X-Files” gone, net has opted for an all-comedy night, moving “King of the Hill” to 8:30 and “Malcolm in the Middle” to 9.

This strategy makes sense because comedy is what Fox does best right now, and the net didn’t want to have to launch a Sunday drama in addition to plugging its numerous other holes. Also, the 9 o’clock competish is mostly heavy dramas (“Alias,” “The Sopranos,” “Law & Order: CI,” “Angel”), so “Malcolm” will clearly stand out.

What doesn’t make sense is 9:30’s “The Grubbs,” a crude family laffer that seems a better fit with “Married With Children” than “Malcolm.”

CBS

Unable to develop the right 8 o’clock drama and needing a place to stick more comedies, CBS has opted to look for laffs in this key hour for just the second time in 20 years.

Alfred Molina is back (yes, “Ladies Man’s” Alfred Molina!) in a new half-hour program at 8:30 that ranks down there with “Danny” and “Emeril” among recent laffer misfires.

“Becker” slides into the 8 p.m. slot and is at least a good demo match with “60 Minutes.” But will viewers be looking for laffs when the clock stops ticking?

Net is also making a shift in its “Sunday Movie” franchise, moving away from the heartland hankie pics that had served it so well and opting for a slate heavy on biopics (Mary Kay, Jackie Gleason, Hitler).

NBC

Peacock is bowing only two dramas this fall, and both of them are on this night, which has long been among the weakest for the net.

Likable 1960s family drama “American Dreams” moves into the 8 p.m. hour and could carve out a decent-sized aud — especially with no competing drama on CBS.

Sandwiched between two of NBC’s oldest-skewing shows — “Dateline” and “Law & Order: CI” — “Dreams” can’t help but have some gray hairs. Its success, then, lies in whether it can grab enough of the 12-34 crowd.

At 10, crime drama “Boomtown” will challenge the seemingly vulnerable “The Practice” on ABC. Coming out of “CI” and perhaps picking up viewers who’ve just watched HBO’s “The Sopranos,” this series could score especially well among men.

Overall, NBC will continue to make strides on the night.

ABC

Net is sticking with its lineup of a Disney movie, spy drama “Alias” and “The Practice,” despite the latter’s nearly 30% year-to-year ratings decline last season.

“Alias” was a solid but not spectacular rookie last season and will be looking to recruit more young viewers this fall with a few minor tweaks. It could benefit from the departure of “The X-Files.”

“The Practice,” coming off a dreadful season quality-wise, will have its hands full with “Boomtown” and is no longer a lock to lead its hour.

The WB

This has been the night that’s hobbled the Frog, but now it’s looking to boost its fortunes here by moving over a pair of vet dramas with cult followings: “Charmed” at 8 and “Angel” at 9.

Netlet managed a mere 1.2 rating in adults 18-34 and should be able to improve on that this fall, especially with repeats of “Gilmore Girls” warming things up at 7.

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